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Former SoCal Priest Accused of More Sexual Assaults

November 21, 2017

A former priest in Southern California who was previously named in a 2015 child sexual abuse lawsuit has allegedly molested at least four more children at parishes in Palmdale, Redondo Beach, and Covina, according to new court documents recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Two civil complaints that were filed in July and October allege that former priest Chris Cunningham sexually molested boys ages 10 to 15 from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s at three churches in the Los Angeles area:  St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale; St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach; and St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church in Covina.

The lawsuits name the churches and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as defendants and claim that the archdiocese was aware of the allegations against Cunningham. The plaintiffs claim that the archdiocese didn’t investigate, choosing instead to transfer the priest to other assignments and ignoring the complaints.

The plaintiffs are not specifically named in the latest lawsuits.

The law firm representing Cunningham said that the former priest denies the allegations and has “never sexually abused anyone.”

New Allegations

The new litigation follows a 2015 case filed on behalf of a plaintiff who he said was sexually molested as a 12-year-old boy at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church in Covina in the early 2000s.

“We’ve since that time learned of quite a few more victims of his abuse,” the lawyer said. “Folks in charge of youth at every parish he was at leading up to St. Louise and at St. Louise were aware of that conduct and nearly all of them reported their suspicions and concerns to their superiors.”

All the complaints say that Cunningham regularly had underage boys alone with him in his church home and met frequently with the boys without chaperones outside of church.

Cunningham was removed from active ministry more than 10 years ago.

Archdiocese’s Response

The archdiocese said in a statement that Cunningham was reassigned from St. Louise in 2004 “due to management issues not related to misconduct” and that the church “was not aware of any alleged sexual misconduct until 2015,” when the initial lawsuit was filed.

“The archdiocese received allegations of improper boundary violations concerning Fr. Cunningham in August 2005,” the archdiocese said in the statement. “According to archdiocesan policy, the matter was investigated and an announcement concerning the allegations was made at the parish informing the parish community.”

But Archbishop Jose Gomez released a list of priests in 2013 accused of sexually abusing children. Cunningham was included on that list. Archbishop Gomez didn’t notify the parishes where Cunningham had worked. The list was dated October 2008 and was posted to the archdiocese’s website without mentioning it to his previous churches, according to BishopAccountability.org, a group that tries to organize and distribute all the documents concerning child molestation in the Catholic Church.

The 2015 complaint contended that the archdiocese and the Covina church should’ve known that Cunningham was violating rules designed to prevent child molestation by “regularly having underage boys alone with him in his church living quarters; regularly wrestling with underage boys on church grounds; (and) regularly meeting underage boys without chaperones for outings to movies, Starbucks and other locations.”

An archdiocese spokesperson responded that the priest was on the list because of “improper boundary violations” reported in 2005, rather than because of any sexual misconduct allegations. The list was described as a “final addendum” to archdiocese’s “Report to the People of God: Clergy Sexual Abuse.” It is no longer available on the archdiocese’s website.

The 2015 case is scheduled to go to trial later soon.

Contact Aggressive, Experienced Lawyers

As aggressive, experienced lawyers, the Cifarelli Law Firm works to prevent abuse and protect minors from harmful, dangerous relations within organizations such as churches and schools.

If a child has been assaulted in a religious organization, parents and loved ones should act by contacting an experienced attorney at our law firm. Email us or call our Irvine child abuse law office at (949) 502-8600 to schedule a confidential, free initial consultation.

Our trusted legal representatives will provide insight and understanding for your case and in protecting the rights of your child. We serve abused and injured children throughout all of California including San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, California, and ensure that your child is compensated for the abuse at the hands of those placed in positions of trust and power.

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